Freda Payne At Jimmy Mak’s

Payne, Freda - Mark Sheldon A23A5276

At the Portland Jazz Festival, Freda Payne reached into her jazz, pop and soul background for the ingredients of an eclectic evening. Her performance summarized a career that began in the 1950s when she was a Detroit teenager. Payne appeared at Jimmy Mak’s, a club near downtown that serves as an official festival venue. Playing to an audience overflowing with standing listeners, she worked with a quintet led by the veteran Portland drummer Mel Brown. Payne opened her late set with Cole Porter’s … [Read more...]

Clark Terry Is Gone

clark terry 2

Clark Terry has died at 94 following his long battle with the effects of advanced diabetes. His wife Gwen posted the announcement this morning on her Facebook page. Our beloved Clark Terry has joined the big band in heaven where he'll be singing and playing with the angels. He left us peacefully, surrounded by his family, students and friends. Clark has known and played with so many amazing people in his life. He has found great joy in his friendships and his greatest passion was spending … [Read more...]

PDX Jazz: Eigsti With Stevens & Harrison’s Free Country

Harrison Free Country 2

As usual at the Portland Jazz Festival, no one can take in more than a slice of the music filling this city of 610,000. A friend and I paused at a crosswalk to hear a musician, tip basket at his feet, serenading passersby with his bass clarinet. He was no Eric Dolphy and he wasn’t officially a part of the festival, but he was providing some of the music heard everywhere in Portland, from street corners to bars, clubs, restaurants, hotel lobbies and theaters. Trying to hear as much music as … [Read more...]

Portland 2015

Portland & Mt. Hood

The Rifftides staff is off to Portland, Oregon for the first four days of the ten-day PDX Jazz Festival. I have been recruited to moderate a Saturday panel discussion about Frank Sinatra’s influence on jazz musicians. In my primary role as observer, I’m looking forward to hearing a diverse cast that includes newcomers like the French singer Cyrille Aimée and the young saxophonist Hailey Niswanger, as well as oldcomers like alto sax giants Lou Donaldson, 88, and Lee Konitz, 87. In between: … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Pullman On Powell

Wail Bud Powell cover

Peter Pullman, Wail: The Life of Bud Powell (Pullman) Pullman’s research, detail and zeal override flaws of style in this indispensible study of the architect and spirit of modern jazz piano. The author is illuminating in his treatment of Powell’s early years as a child prodigy. He is chilling in his documentation of the mature pianist’s tribulations in the hands of police, mental institutions, lawyers, the courts, and some of his women companions. He paints a bleaker picture than the … [Read more...]

Other Matters: Snowless Winter (Sorry, Boston)

Snowless February

Boston, it would be kinder not to let you see this, but February out here is treating us rather differently from what you are enduring. Most years at this time eastern Washington State is likely to be covered in white. Today, it was winter on the calendar but spring in the valley. The high temperature was in the sixties. I took the bicycle along a road halfway up Ahtanum Ridge, looked west and saw snow only on the summit of Mount Rainier, 14,400 feet high and 60 miles away (in the middle … [Read more...]

Happy CT Valentine’s Day

CT Plays In Bed

The obvious choice for music in a Valentine’s Day post may seem a cliché. Of course, Rifftides wouldn’t be caught dead clichéing. Still, given yesterday’s news about Clark Terry (see the next item in the queue), it seemed appropriate to discover whether “My Funny Valentine” shows up in his discography. It does in a 1963 Gary Burton album by the 20-year-old vibraharpist and guest artists. Terry plays flugelhorn on the Rodgers and Hart song which, under his stewardship, is too lovely to be a … [Read more...]

Clark Terry Goes To Hospice

Clark Terry Hospice 2

Clark Terry has gone into hospice care after years of illness in which he was able to stay at home. The great trumpeter is 94 and suffers from extreme complications of diabetes. A fund raising campaign in and beyond the jazz community made his home care possible. This afternoon, Billboard posted the hospice news with a message from CT’s wife Gwen, a brief summary of his career and video of a memorable appearance as his alter ego, the blues singer celebrated as “Mumbles.” To read the Billboard … [Read more...]

My Kind Of Friday The 13th


It is possible to have good luck on Friday the 13th. We have proof in the form of a recording from a Town Hall concert played by Thelonious Monk in New York City on February 28, 1959. “The Thelonious Monk Orchestra” is the grand term that the promoters and the record company applied to the 10-piece band assembled for the occasion, one of the most memorable of Monk’s career. Fortunately for posterity, the concert was recorded. Hall Overton wrote an arrangement that observed the eighth-note rhythm … [Read more...]

A New Old Bill Evans Interview

Since Rifftides has been pretty much about Bill Evans since last Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal article, let’s continue with a discovery brought to light through fellow blogger Marc Myers on his JazzWax. It’s a 1976 interview with Evans by a pair of young jazz broadcasters on a Madison, Wisconsin radio station. Marc recruited Bret Primack, The Jazz Video Guy, to add pictures to the sound track of James Farber’s and Larry Goldberg’s interview. Thirty-nine years later, it’s fascinating to hear … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Vijay Iyer Trio

Iyer Break STuff

Vijay Iyer, Break Stuff (ECM) It would be safe to say that the pianist Vijay Iyer is the only jazz musician who constructs his music on the Fibonacci sequence of numbers introduced by the Medieval Italian mathematician. Safe that is, if Iyer didn’t credit saxophonist Steve Coleman with giving him the idea years ago. Maybe Coleman got it from Bartók (e.g., “Music For Strings, Percussion and Celesta”). Whether Iyer’s ascendency in jazz can be credited to his mathematical expertise and … [Read more...]

Correspondence: Broadbent On The Swinging 8th Note

Alan Broadbent head

Mike Harris, Rifftides reader, surreptitious recordist (Bill Evans: The Secret Sessions) and avocational pianist, sent this query: I wonder if Alan Broadbent could expand a bit on the thought he expresses, in your Wall Street Journal article about Bill Evans, that his “aim was to have a swinging eighth-note?” I have long speculated as to just what it is that makes the quality of his gentle swing so appealingly distinctive, and perhaps it is this concept of a “swinging eighth-note” that is … [Read more...]

Weekend Extra: Evans Reflects On Ellington

NYC; 1968

In the aftermath of my Bill Evans piece in The Wall Street Journal this week and the many generous comments about it here and in the online edition of the paper, I thought you might enjoy a rare Evans performance. It is the exquisite concert version of a piece that he recorded for this album in 1978 and played again in his memorable appearance on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz program. This was at Carnegie Hall on June 28, 1978. Bill makes the introduction. … [Read more...]

Odds And Ends: Sloane On Balliett, Reilly On Haden

Tea Bag

On her SloaneView blogspot, Carol Sloane posts recollections of her long-running affection for The New Yorker. Describing the time Whitney Balliett interviewed her for a profile in the magazine, she discloses how the great writer prepared his tea. Haven’t you always wondered? And she tells what it was like to be on the confirmation end of The New Yorker’s exhaustive fact-checking process. To read Ms. Sloane's blog, go here. Also in the recollection department, the veteran pianist Jack Reilly … [Read more...]

The Bill Evans Legacy

bill-evans-color head shot

My piece in today’s Wall Street Journal is about Bill Evans, his continuing influence on pianists and on the general course of jazz, 35 years after his death. You may be able to see the column here (that's a link). Otherwise, I hope that your town has a newsstand or a full-service supermarket that sells the Journal. … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Lisa Parrott

Lisa Parrott Round Tripper

Lisa Parrott, Round Tripper (Serious Niceness Records) There is muscle and grit in the sound of Ms. Parrott’s baritone saxophone on Ornette Coleman’s “Round Trip.” Playing alto, she comes closer to essence of Coleman in “Rosa Takes a Stand” and “D. Day.” Her work on both horns is inflected with a kind of Coleman chanciness, but it would be a mistake to categorize this Australian who moved to New York in the 1990s. In a song written with her bassist sister Nikki, “Do You Think That I Do Not … [Read more...]

Super Bowl Jazz

Super Bowl XLIX

As everyone in the United States cannot help knowing, and as many people around the world cannot help puzzling over, today is an unofficial US national holiday known as Super Bowl Sunday. In Phoenix, Arizona, The Seattle Seahawks play football of a kind that is not soccer, against the New England Patriots for the championship of the National Football League. Multiple millions of dollars are spent on the game——and that’s just for commercials aired in the television broadcast. In … [Read more...]

Dick Vartanian’s Little Book

Vartanian & Desmond

Dick Vartanian, a trumpet player, was one of many San Francisco jazzmen who served in World War Two and returned home to see if they could make a living playing music. He and a clarinetist, Paul Breitenfeld, had become good friends at Polytechnic High School. The war behind them, the young Army veterans attended San Francisco State College, worked gigs in and around the city and played together for a time at the Feather River Inn, a resort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We see them pictured … [Read more...]

Just Because: Lester Young

Prez 1

Lester Young, tenor saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Gene Ramey, bass; Freddie Green, guitar; Jo Jones, drums. This Year’s Kisses. Prez, Teddy, Roy, Vic, Gene, Freddy, Jo. “This Year’s Kisses” from Jazz Giants ‘56. … [Read more...]

Nick Travis

Nick Travis

Nick Travis (1925-1964) played trumpet in a variety of big bands including those of Woody Herman, Ray McKinley, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Ina Ray Hutton and Jerry Wald; all of those in the 1940s. The list got longer in the ‘50s, when he worked with Herman again, and with Jerry Gray, Bob Chester, Elliott Lawrence, Jimmy Dorsey, the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra and Maynard Ferguson’s Birdland Dream Band. Travis was active in New York studios in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s and was a prominent member … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Bley, Sheppard, Swallow

Carla Bley Trios

Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow, CBTrios (ECM) Trios concentrates the essence of understanding that Bley, Sheppard and Swallow have developed over two decades of collaboration. She recorded the album’s five pieces in various configurations on earlier albums, but the spare instrumentation of her piano, Sheppard’s saxophones and Swallow’s bass creates space for leisurely exploration of the deep harmonic possibilities in her compositions. Most of all, though, melody is what dominates … [Read more...]

Recent Listening: Kenton Alums, Coltrane, Mraz, Among Others

Kenton Alumni

Stan Kenton Alumni Band, Road Scholars (Summit) Before he died, Stan Kenton ruled that there would never be a Kenton ghost band. Nor has there been. Still, 35 years after his death there is considerable demand for the expansive Kenton approach. The 18-piece road band led by former Kenton trumpeter Mike Vax goes a long way toward satisfying that demand. Half of the band’s members worked for Kenton. The others are from the rich pool of southern California musicians with extensive big band … [Read more...]

Ward Swingle, 1927-2015


Ward Swingle, who founded a vocal group that melded J.S. Bach with bebop rhythm and scat singing, died on Monday in Eastbourne, England. He was 87. The announcement came from the Swingles, successor to the Swingle Singers, many of whose albums were best sellers in the US and Europe in the 1960s. Born in Alabama, Mr. Swingle was an American pianist with classical training who went to Paris for study with pianist Walter Gieseking and became involved in the city’s classical and jazz communities. He … [Read more...]

Monday Recommendation: Art Tatum

Tatum, God

Art Tatum, God Is In The House (High Note) The title comes from what Fats Waller said when he saw Art Tatum walk into a club where Waller was playing. Dan Morgenstern tells the story in his notes for this essential collection, “…he stopped the music and announced: 'Ladies and gentlemen, I play the piano, but God is in the house tonight.'” Tatum was Waller’s primary inspiration. The master had no hesitation about paying obeisance to the student. Using a disc recorder, Jerry Newman captured … [Read more...]

Martin Luther King


In remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the national holiday dedicated to his leadership of the civil rights movement, here is the John Coltrane Quartet playing Coltrane’s “Alabama.” The performance is from Ralph J. Gleason’s Jazz Casual television series John Coltrane, tenor saxophone; McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Elvin Jones, drums. Coltrane made the initial recording of “Alabama” on November 19, 1963, two months following the white supremacist bombing of … [Read more...]